|Mountain Landscape (Reilly, 2016)|
A FEW YEARS AGO, I heard a wonderful story, which I’m very fond of telling. An elementary school teacher was giving a drawing class to a group of six-year-old children. At the back of the classroom sat a little girl who normally didn’t pay much attention in school. In the drawing class she did. For more than twenty minutes, the girl sat with her arms curled around her paper, totally absorbed in what she was doing. The teacher found this fascinating. Eventually, she asked the girl what she was drawing. Without looking up, the girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” Surprised, the teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” The girl said, “They will in a minute.” from Ken Robinson, The Element, p. 11.
These days I mostly paint. Maybe, like the girl in the story Ken Robinson tells it is to represent God, to author. Maybe painting defies such cause and effect. I blessedly don't know. Some mornings as I stand with a paintbrush in hand, I wonder what my husband would have made of this compulsion. Painting is an in-the-middle type of work (highly rhizomatic) and a mostly solitary expression. Seeing something arise out of the paint loosens the grip of grief even as it reveals it and deepens my will to live.
I dream about painting. Asleep I seem to be working out problems of space and intention. Rehearsing variations. I feel the paint move beneath my brush and stain my hands. After such loss that is redefined by each new moment, creating is a form of grace. So too is saying yes. Frankly, I indulge myself and I am unapologetic. I have traded earning money for time to paint and I am the better for it and just a bit poorer. Unlike Thoreau, I have more chairs in my home than I could sit on in a given night or week. Im the last 18 months, I have reclaimed the dining room and now it is filled with tubes and pots of paint, gesso, journals, brushes, pencils, and a crock pot.
Somedays I fear I am more Grasshopper than industrious Ant. But after Rob's death, I mostly know what is important and what could easily be forgotten. If you were to visit tomorrow you might see a half dozen journals spread across the dining room table in various stages of drying. Some pages might look abstract, while others might display more recognizable images. A hand opening. A woman's face in profile. A murder of crows lifting out of an eye. I paint to tell myself what my words can't seem to convey. Painting loosens what I tacitly know and gives it a temporary voice that remains uncoded. I paint out of curiousity.
Often my intention when painting is to become better at it and also to have those very frustrating days when nothing my hand touches matches my intention--when painting mostly sucks. I paint to forsake technique, to forget intention and open myself to possibility. Painting reminds me that I can still be surprised.
Some mornings, it is the sheer messiness of it that I love best--that and how meaning sometimes emerges along the length of a line, within the swell of a shape, in conflict with space or tone, and often in homage to color. I must confess that I have loved Mark Rothko since I was a young girl. For every codification I make to explain what it means to paint,
the next day,
minute finds the exception
and returns me to
a lovely stream
where the banks
are less certain,
the flow less contained,
is in the house.